It is hard to imagine a more appropriate production for Trinity Term than Tommo Fowler’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. The play itself, famously Shakespeare’s ‘most intellectual’, focuses on the King of Navarre’s decision to cut off his court to devote ‘three years’ to Academia. The three men are tempted away from their studies by the lure of three young ladies in the fields surrounding the court. Sounding familiar? Fowler’s production pushes the comparison even further, giving his cast Brideshead-style costumes and introducing croquet and academic gowns in the first scene. The adaptation is a good one, making sense of the play’s content rather than standing in opposition to it. We understand the arguments characters have about the importance of intellectualism in the context of the struggle of being young and full of energy, but forced to study hard.
The segment of the show I saw was lighthearted and full of physical comedy- a notable moment being when Armado (played flamboyantly and amusingly by Michael Beale) carries his servant Moth (Zoe Bullock) on his back to demonstrate Hercules’ strength. John Mark Philo, who played the wayward Biron, contributed most to the physical comedy- bouncing around the stage and using an enormous range of comical and exaggerated (occasionally over-exaggerated) facial expressions. Chris Bland and Morritz Borrmann were good foils for his exuberance, and Bland had his own moment of comedy, hiding from Borrman’s Dumain in a brilliantly choreographed scene which brought to the fore the farcical aspects of Shakespeare’s convoluted plot.
Fowler has changed Holofernes from a male schoolmaster at the court to a female ‘spinster’ (despite the slight discrepancy this causes in a plot where the men make an oath that they may ‘not even talk with a woman’): played by Ellie Wade, the wordy lines are well-handed, and the performance is an extremely funny one. The Princess and her two ladies, played by Katherine Skinglsey, Claire Parry and Georgia Waters, were effective in their charming of the three gentlemen but lacked something in their bearing and attitude–even in the 20th century, the meeting of two royal families would surely contain a little more formality than Waters’ fiery characterisation allows. There were a few other problems: some lines were not very clear, as Shakespeare’s long-winded speeches ran away with the actors, and some of the onstage mirth occasionally descended into corpsing. Yet these issues will, I am sure, be negated by the time the play opens on Wednesday. Christ Church Cathedral gardens will be an ideal location for this funny and fresh adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s more difficult comedies.